From the Headlines- Dec 5 – 9

Still not fixed: Michigan environmental officials raised fines for Stellantis following seven air quality violations at its auto plant on the east side of Detroit, and are imposing a firm timeline for installing pollution control measures. The total fines for the company were raised from $62,863 to $136,832 after residents complained that the supplemental environmental projects Stellantis proposed to offset fines, like planting trees at a nearby park, would do little to lessen pollution impacts. This money will go into the State of Michigan General fund. The company will still spend $147,000 on a supplemental project to improve air quality and manage energy use at Southeastern High School. Stellantis will also need to install an additional regenerative thermal oxidizer to control and treat emissions by June 30, 2023. Yet, that’s a long way off for those complaining of poor air quality around the plant. “FCA should not be able to continue the production of vehicles until the repairs are completed,” said an anonymous commenter in the report posted by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on the enforcement actions. (Bridge Detroit, MI Radio)

Sewer wars in the ‘burbs: Macomb County officials are once again blaming Oakland County for wastewater discharges that have helped produce potentially toxic mats of algae in Lake St. Clair. “If the situation was reversed and Macomb County was discharging combined sewer overflows and sometimes raw sewage into Oakland County, I’m pretty sure there would be an uproar,” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said in a statement. In the past, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash has said there’s no evidence Oakland County is the cause of the problem and that Macomb County has issues with faulty sewer infrastructure and failing septic systems that could contribute to algae growth. Meanwhile, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, sometimes referred to as the “Donald Trump of Warren”, has threatened to build a dam to prevent sewage overflows from entering Macomb County via the Red Run Drain. (Detroit News, Guardian, Macomb Daily)

(Re)wilding out: Scientists are studying forested and overgrown areas in 25 Detroit parks to look for wildlife like coyotes, foxes and skunks. “We’re getting more and more exposure to wildlife in urban environments,” said Yale University wildlife biologist Nyeema Harris. “As we’re changing their habitats, as we’re expanding the footprint of urbanization…we’ll increasingly come in contact with them.” Harris’ work may contribute to global discussion around “rewilding” or bringing back natural systems that have allowed wildlife to thrive. Cities like Hanover, Frankfurt and London have allowed nature to take over vacant lots and urban streams to improve wildlife habitat and mitigate against climate change. For example, two beavers were released in north London this year in the hopes their dams could prevent flooding. Part of Harriss’ work involves talking with Detroiters who may be intrigued by wild animals or fearful that they could harm their pets or bring disease. “Like it or not, rewilding will occur,” she said. “The question is, how can we prepare communities and environments and societies to anticipate the presence of more and more wildlife?” (AP)

Big ticket items: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan released a $2.45 billion plan for capital projects, with $382.5 million for parks and recreation and $510.3 million for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The DWSD funding could include money for lead service line and water main replacements, stormwater infrastructure, and the Basement Backup Protection Program. Half of the parks and recreation funding will go towards the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway, which is expected to cost $204.3 altogether. These targets are not approved budge items but represent the current priorities of the mayor’s office. (Bridge Detroit)

Will resume doubling: Michigan will restart the Double Up Food Bucks Program in January after partially suspending it in August. The program matches food assistance dollars spent on produce and is available at more than 250 farmers’ markets, grocery stores and farm stands across the state. Demand for Double Up Food Bucks increased dramatically during the pandemic, and the pause has been an attempt to keep it running, according to Holly Parker from the Fair Food Network, which administers the program. Those using the program can’t get additional Double Up Food Bucks until next year but can spend what they’ve earned from past purchases. And the pause doesn’t affect purchases from farm stands and farmers’ markets or at participating locations in Flint. (Freep)

Hot garbage: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will decide on a package of recycling bills sent to her desk during the lame duck session early Thursday after changes were made to include “chemical recycling,” which uses chemicals to break down plastics so they can be used in other products. “This legislation is burning hot garbage,” said Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “What we’re talking about is redefining burning hot garbage as chemical recycling as part of a greenwashing campaign.” Proponents of chemical recycling say it will keep waste out of landfills, while environmentalists argue the emphasis needs to be on reducing plastic use altogether and that the move is part of a push by the plastic industry to increase production. The larger package includes measures to boost recycling in the state by disincentivizing landfills. (Bridge)

Basement problems: A new study shows that a spreading plume of 1,4 dioxane in Ann Arbor’s groundwater could seep into basements on the city’s west side, posing health risks to those who inhale the vapors. The pollution comes from the former Gelman Sciences site on the border of Ann Arbor and Scio Township, where the chemical was used as a solvent. The city of Ann Arbor did a preliminary study on the contamination, sampling some structures, but no trace of 1,4 Dioxane has been detected so far. (MI Radio)

New boss: Whitmer announced some personnel changes ahead of her second term. Among those stepping down is EGLE Director Liesl Clark, who will be replaced by current head of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Dan Eichinger. During Eichinger’s time at the DNR, the agency revoked the easement allowing Enbridge Energy to operate its Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, although the company has refused to comply with state orders to shut it down. During his tenure, the Michigan DNR also got into the carbon credit game, promising not to log portions of forest in exchange for payments from polluters, a framework that some critics say allows businesses to continue emitting planet-warming gasses. (Freep, Detroit News, Interlochen, Energy News)


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